US Bishops recall Martin Luther King Jr. Day

As the United States celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day, American Bishops appeal for action to end racism, and recall the inspiring lives of saintly African Americans.

By Deborah Castellano Lubov

The Bishops of the United States are appealing once again for an end to racism this Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

In a statement in observance of the Day celebrated Monday across the country, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, of the Archdiocese of the Military Services, demanded acting to address racial disparities.

Since 1986, the federal holiday has commemorated the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights leader, who was assassinated in 1968.

MLK's legacy against racial injustice

The statement began by quoting Sister Thea Bowman, FSPB, who was the granddaughter of slaves and the only African American member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.

Sr. Bowman had said: “People keep saying, ‘Where’s the next Martin Luther King?’ We’re all called, I think. We’re called by our citizenship, by our membership in the human race. We’re all called to free ourselves and to free one another.”

As the USCCB President and Bishops recalled her words, they note that on 16 January 2023, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have celebrated his 94th birthday, "we reflect on his legacy of a non-violent struggle against racial injustice."

"In the 60 years since Dr. King’s 'I Have a Dream' speech," the American Bishops continue, "we recognize the progress made towards a just society that leaves no one on the margins, without failing to acknowledge that much work remains."

Appeals to do better

"Beyond remembering and quoting Dr. King today," the USCCB appeals, "we must act to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system, access to affordable housing and healthcare, and economic opportunities. The USCCB continues to support policy changes in these areas of society. On our website, you may read more about our policy work, the USCCB’s efforts to overcome racism, and ministry resources in working with and for Catholics of African descent."

“Remembering that Dr. King was guided first by his faith also challenges us to personal conversion. Unjust structures exist because personal sin persists.”

As the late Pope Benedict XVI expressed, the US Bishops recalled, "To renew the Church in every age, God raises up saints, who themselves have been renewed by God and are in constant contact with God."

They invite faithful to turn to the saints to see models of transformed lives

Saintly lives of African Americans

To this end, the USCCB has advanced beatification and canonization causes of six inspirational African American men and women: Venerable Pierre Toussaint, Servant of God Mother Mary Lange, Venerable Henriette Delille, Venerable Augustus Tolton, Servant of God Julia Greeley, and Sister Thea Bowman.

“May their holy examples convert our hearts and our society, that we may achieve Dr. King’s dream of building a society where every person is recognized as a beloved son or daughter of God and treated with the justice and dignity that they deserve.”

The USCCB has made available various resources on African Americans and Catholic ministry, and the USCCB’s efforts to overcome racism, on its website.